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Stories of success—thanks to family and faculty

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Tammy Jamieson (center), a biotech student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Kentucky, discusses how support from a faculty member helped her overcome concerns about returning to school.

​Many studies have shown the important role of family and faculty in supporting students on their path to success, especially when it comes to  enrolling and remaining in college. But sometimes hearing students tell how such relationships affected their education can speak volumes.

Attendees of the recent 2011 Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Principal Investigators conference in Washington, D.C., heard a few of those personal stories from a handful of community college students. Each of their experiences were unique, but some common threads emerged that other colleges can adopt or expand on. They include:

  • Printed recruitment materials attract students to programs, but fliers and other media messages must also speak to parents of traditional college-age students or the significant others of adult students.
  • Students are more likely to enroll if programs look “cool” in fliers or during campus visits. 
  • Students are more likely to stay enrolled if they feel that faculty understand their family responsibilities.
  • The demeanor of college personnel when prospective students meet them during campus visits or placement testing has a big impact on whether students enroll.
  • Math is less frightening when students can apply concepts to tasks in the career fields they hope to enter.
  • Students recognize the value of learning across disciplines and with students of different ages and backgrounds.
  • Coursework is most appealing when tied to real-work skills and work experiences.

Wes Hipolito said the flier about the advanced manufacturing welding technology program at Asnuntuck Community College (ACC) in Connecticut captured his attention long enough for him to bring it home and drop it on a table. He said he probably would not have thought about it again, except his mom read it and honed in on the scholarship information.

“My mom really pushed me to go into it. As a high school student, you don't realize how quickly time goes by,” he said at the conference, which was hosted by the American Association of Community Colleges.

A new video series by the American Association of Community Colleges profiles eight community college students in Advanced Technological Education programs.

Hipolito earned two certificates at the college since beginning the program as a dual-enrollment student. As one of the youngest people in the program, Hipolito said he enjoyed learning from the older students who had work experiences to share. He is currently employed as a computer numerical control machine operator and is encouraging his younger siblings to enroll in ACC’s technical programs.

Benjamin Schneider said his mom also played a critical role in changing his major from theater to computer science at Clark State Community College (CSCC) in Ohio.

“My mother pushed me in the direction of computers because she didn’t want me living at home for 40 years," he said.

Now employed as a part-time instructor for basic computer classes at CSCC, Schneider encourages computer novices to build their skills so they can enroll in the college's cybersecurity and high-performance computing programs—which prepare workers for jobs in those in-demand fields.    

A little motivation

For Tammy Jamieson, a native Alaskan, the sense of community in the biotechnology program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) in Kentucky helped her overcome fears about college after 10 years away from the classroom.

“What really thrills me about this is the excitement and sense of community. It’s really my life now,” she said.

At the panel discussion, Jamieson thanked Deborah Davis, an assistant professor at BCTC, for encouraging her interest in science. Jamieson also urged college personnel to promptly return calls and emails from students.

“I can't tell you how much a little encouragement can do. It really can change people’s lives,” she said.

Michael Snowden said his 19-year-old daughter is so impressed with the As and Bs he has earned in the robotics program at Baltimore City Community College in Maryland that she is considering going back to school. Snowden—a 52-year-old military veteran with a bachelor's degree in political science—became interested in robots after seeing how the new technology is used at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he is a surgical technologist.

Although the math in the program has been challenging, Snowden forges ahead because he sees it as critical to working in a growing industry. 

"The future is remote surgeries. I want to be part of that future," he said.

Applications to the real world

Snowden suggested that faculty should use more problems with real-world scenarios to help older students connect their previous work experiences to classroom activities. Applying math during hands-on lab activities eased  the concerns of Jennifer Blancas, a biotechnology student at the City College of San Francisco (California). Doing something with math “cements it in our heads and makes it not so scary,” she said.

Blancas, who already the holds a bachelor’s degree, had worked 10 years in theater stage management before tiring of the constant struggle to pay rent and other bills. She enrolled in the biotech program when she saw a college flier about high-wage career opportunities in biotechnology. 

“Engaging the students is what it’s all about. You have to pique their interest,” she said. 

ATETV has videos of students' stories and more information for parents and school counselors. Some material can be customized for a college’s recruiting program.  For high school student Lucio Trevino, it was the dazzling technology on display in a lab participating in the STARS Academy that caught his attention. Trevino’s brother insisted that he explore the energy career pathway program for high school students and even took him to the informational program. The friendliness the instructors in the lab convinced him to participate. The National Science Foundation’s ATE CREATE Center as the College of the Canyons (California) provides faculty professional development, curriculum development, a summer camp and other student activities for the state-supported energy career pathway program.

Attentiveness by a college faculty member has definitely changed Billie Copley’s life. A nanotechnology student at Dakota County Technical College in Minnesota, Copley has become so close to professor Deb Newberry that her three children call Newberry “Grandma Deb.” Copley said she did not know she could be good at math until Newberry, who is director of the NSF ATE Nano-Link Center, recruited her for the program.

Newbury’s encouragement—and occasional babysitting assistance—helped Copley stay enrolled in the program when she got pregnant and had a newborn to care for.

Copley’s advice to community college educators: “Push students out of their comfort zone, but don't scare them.”

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